Before my Egypt series becomes completely forgotten, here’s the account of our fourth day in the country, a day trip to Islamic Cairo. Egypt is predominantly Muslim and this is evident with a quite number of mosques dotted along its skyline. Known as the “city of a thousand minarets”, Cairo, Central Cairo in particular, is home to a number of historic mosques.
Our first stop, Mosque of Sultan Hassan, is considered to be the best building of Mamluk architecture in Cairo. The mosque also served as a madrasah or a theological school, educating all four Sunni teachings.
The mosque was built from stone and topped with unusual egg-shaped domes. When we’re about to get in, I really had to stare at the minarets’ astounding beauty. I personally love its intricate details and I salute the work of whoever’s hands that did these wonders. Originally four, the mosque has three minarets today.
We passed through a series of dark corridors that led us to the sun-lit courtyard. The arcades surrounding the sahn is donned with (probably a thousand) lamps.
In the middle is a gazebo that functions as the ablution.
The mihrab is impressive in gold, blue and orange. At the back of the prayer hall is a passage that leads to a mausoleum where we found Sultan Hassan’s tomb. The simple dome is accentuated with stalactite-ish sculptures and Islamic calligraphy on the wall. Sultan Hassan died before the mosque was completed.
Next to Sultan Hassan’s Mosque is the Cairo Citadel, a fortified compound with palaces, mosques and museums that was once home to the rulers of the country. We headed straight to Mosque of Muhammad Ali, also known as Alabaster Mosque for its alabaster finish.
Along this arcaded walk is a clock tower from the king of France that was exchanged for one of Luxor Temple’s obelisks.
Our tour guide encouraged us to visit Istanbul to see where this mosque was “copied” from. Alabaster Mosque’s dome and minarets speak of its Ottoman inspiration.
The alabaster cladding extends towards the mosque’s vast interiors. The center is graced with a huge antique chandelier, with a series of lamps surrounding the giant piece. On the right side of the mosque is Muhammad Ali’s tomb.
The opulent dome is decorated with Islamic motifs and calligraphy.
Outside the mosque, we saw a handful of lion sculptures that eventually led us to a balcony overlooking the capital’s majestic skyline.
Located on a hill, there’s no doubt that only from the citadel you can get unprecedented views of the city. That high tower sticking out a little bit off-center on left, is the Cairo Tower, the tallest structure in Egypt.
There is so much more to see but that two mosques already ate up a huge chunk of our time. Anyway, our next stop was the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities where we “met” a lot of preserved dead aka mummies. Goosebumps! We also had an amazing time checking out King Tut’s jaw dropping treasures. It’s no surprise that my brain started to feel overloaded with so much information because there is sooooo much to know and see. I began to stop listening to our tour guide after an hour, because every corner, he’s showing and telling us something I can no longer store in my head. The Egyptian history is so long that it takes time for someone to fully understand and remember chronologically. In the first floor alone we spent a long time looking at artifacts–a day isn’t enough to see everything, what more that we spent only a few hours! It’s sad that our cameras weren’t allowed inside.
Before we cap the day off, we dropped by Khan El Khalili to get some souvenirs. It’s an ancient marketplace where you can get anything you could ever think of–from little souvenirs to Egyptian oils and papyrus, from spices to traditional clothes.
Based from our friends’ experiences with the bazaar and on our own opinion of the place (narrow streets with thick crowd, vendors aggressive to sell), we had all our valuables kept and tripled our attentiveness before getting lost in the mass. As usual, the shopkeepers sell their stuff much higher for tourist so it was SOP to haggle at half the price they were asking. Haha!